Benedict Cumberbatch panel at London Film and Comic Con 2018

Report by Clare Newman

From the moment the first bars of Bowie’s Let’s Dance began playing and Benedict Cumberbatch peered his head over the main stage “set”, fans at London Film & Comic Con knew they were in for a treat.

Photo by Liz Evans

Benedict had been on the go from the minute he arrived at Kensington Olympia, taking pictures with around 2,400 con-goers and signing well over 500 autographs — so the talk must have actually served as a bit of a break.

He was warm, relaxed, witty, sometimes distracted (‘why have I got grass on my shoe, who put that there!” and “Shut UUUUPPPPPPPPP” to a crew member outside calling out batch numbers) and particularly enamoured with a young fan he called Thorina.

Ah, Thorina…. She was there with her parents and her little sibling who was dressed as Doctor Strange. Both looked amazing in their tiny cosplay, and both were trying to get Benedict’s attention through the latter half of the talk. Benedict saw them and insisted little Thorina wasn’t forgotten — eventually Thorina got the chance to take the mic and ask the big question…”What is your favourite colour?” An entire hall melted as Benedict eventually got her to make the correct guess of blue.

It was a real highlight of a brilliant talk where we got to hear a little bit more about the other roles Benedict has taken part in and hints of future projects. Sherlocked talks have been wonderful in the past but obviously show specific, so it was great for fans of various fandoms to ask Benedict questions outside of that sphere.

His answers were funny, insightful and often rambling — those who may have been unaware of his waffling abilities were wholly schooled on it here — and exactly what we have come to love about Benedict.

The show host asked him to start from the beginning, and Benedict answered: “What? Birth?!” before going on to go through the background of his career.

While the tale of his parents being actors and naturally following that path was one us fans already knew, he gave a brilliant insight to the degree in drama he took at Manchester — modules included Theatre in Prisons and Probation, Set Design, Post-WWII American Theatre and studying the films of Kubrick. He said he and his fellow students would take part in three or four plays a term in their spare time. “That was our gym,” he said.

A con-goer asked Benedict if, on the set of Infinity Wars, he got costume envy.

No! Look at that!” Benedict said, pointing to a standee cut-out of himself as the Sorcerer Supreme. He said Tom Holland and RDJ (He actually called him that, not Robert or anything) were particularly admiring of his, but that they all tried each other’s costumes on.

The show host said: “Black Widow’s?

I am a married man!” exclaimed Benedict with a look of faux outrage on his face.

He concluded the question by saying his costume was best because it was breathable and fabric. Later, someone asked if he had to choose, would he keep Sherlock’s coat or the Cloak of Levitation and while he said “both are a pain in the arse!”, he’d choose Sherlock’s coat for winter, and the Cloak for summer.

Further on in the talk, he talked more about life in the MCU, and said how Marvel seemed to be able to cast everyone perfectly so the chemistry was instant.

It starts from the top with Kevin Feige, and is very well orchestrated. It’s a very fun company to work for.”

The show host asked if he had any nerves joining so late on. “Fuck yeah!!” Benedict exclaimed. “I mean, it’s Iron Man for Christ’s sake! He started it 10 years ago so it’s quite daunting when you meet the likes of RDJ, but he’s so open and inclusive and takes you under his wing. He’s an extraordinary mate. Also, Tom Holland is terrifying!

One really nice question from the floor was about Benedict’s audio work, specifically with Cabin Pressure — could he share any memories?

No, I have painful memories that I’ve tried for years and years to deal with through therapy,” Benedict joked, before impersonating Roger Allam’s “dry delivery”. He said how much he missed the show, and specifically the process of getting the script, rehearsing and recording it in a day or even an afternoon.

He added: “I don’t think about what I want to do in future, it usually comes to me, which is very fortunate. I’m doing The Grinch, and that’s coming along nicely.”

A nice interactive interlude followed, when someone asked if there were any roles he’d like to do, and Benedict threw it back out to the floor for suggestions — Macbeth, Mr Darcy (to great applause) and Skeletor were just some of the names flung at him.

Someone then asked him about Hamlet, and his thoughts on the “To be or not to be” line at the start of the show in previews.

This elicited one of the longest responses from Benedict, for which my shorthand skills couldn’t keep up with. However, I got this much:

I just rolled with it with the whole production, and I just went for it. In the first meeting with Lindsey Turner she asked me if I had anything I wanted from the show. I wanted it to be intimate, like a studio version, much like Andrew’s beautiful, beautiful, beautiful version at the Almeida.”

But then he realised doing that would compromise the number of people being able to see it, so he sacrificed his wish for the show to be small-scale for the benefit of theatregoers. On a personal note, I think that says a lot about Benedict and his character and his respect for fans.

Going back to the ‘to be or not to be’ issue though, we realised after the previews — which is what they’re for, certain newspapers — that it wasn’t working, so we moved it. It’s a very movable thing.”

He later added, following a question about whether he’d like to reprise a role, he said he would like to go back to Hamlet.

Leading on from the Hamlet question, the show host asked Benedict how film and theatre differ. “It’s endless,” said Benedict, in another rambling answer. “They feed off one another.”

The next fan to ask a question referenced a poignant scene in Doctor Strange, when he checks the pulse of an enemy he’d killed in battle, and asked Benedict how he felt portraying a character with that high moral standing.

Benedict spoke about a con-goer dressed as Deadpool who was having his picture taken with him, and who had asked Benedict to hold a gun. He said he felt uncomfortable being dressed normally holding a weapon.

Most superhero characters are usually dragged up by their own worst enemy, exposing their flaws. They’re good guys with edges.

It’s important to entertain but also recognise where it needs to be responsible,” he said.

Following on from this, he then said he had been offered a role unlike anything he’s done before. “And I think because I’ve not, is the reason maybe I should.”

Given this led immediately from a question about being a role model, my mind has been racing since wondering what it could be!

Other questions were:

Q: How do you manage to play two similar characters, Sherlock and Doctor Strange, so differently?

A: Sherlock is cold, uncompromising, calculated, Strange is arrogant but changes his ways after he loses everything. Sherlock is London, Strange is New York. The differences are tremendous!

Q: Should Sherlock fall in love, and if so, with who?

A: We all know the answer to that one don’t we? Watson! No seriously, I think it has to be Molly doesn’t it? She’s a challenge, almost an obsession. But love is something that’s unabashed, and open, and deeply private but not something to be embarrassed of — and I don’t think he’s anywhere near (feeling) that.

Q: How do you feel in your greatest role, as a father?

A: Good! Private, but good.

Q: When you’re doing an emotional scene, is it harder to maintain an accent?

A: No, I think definitely not. That’s always the same challenge no matter what other elements in there. It’s interesting, like The Child In Time is a programme, which I’m very, very proud of which is coming out some time soon with the BBC.

It’s the first one we’ve ever done as a production company and that was very much me. I’m not Sherlock, I’m not Doctor Strange, it’s something much nearer me. That was it’s own challenge because it’s very exposing in a way but also far more accessible, I guess. That character’s going through a trauma unlike any of these two. I think it’s much more about the intensity or the cause for intensity and emotion than it is the other accoutrement of the character accent or superhero get ups. Whatever it may be.

Q: Would you consider going for the role of James Bond when Daniel Craig leaves?

A: No comment!! You know what happens when I give an answer to things like that, so no comment!

Q: Would you be interested in a horror role?

A: I might be, maybe one to add to the bucket list!

Q: Were you intimidated with the role of Khan?

A: When you have such an iconic character you don’t have to do much of the heavy lifting but I put myself into it, and tried to make make it something different. I had a great time playing the role, I loved the cast, JJ, and all the team at Bad Robot. 

Q: Will you be filming in Brazil soon?

A: I know it’s a script called Rio but we’re not filming there as far as I know, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But it might change, who knows?

And before we knew it, 45 minutes had passed and the talk was over. Benedict headed back to his autograph booth for a solid two hours and 45 minutes of signing before another two hours of pictures.

It was a brilliant talk, and a brilliant weekend for the Cumberbatch fandom. Those of us who have been in it for a long time saw a whole new generation of fans excited to see him and it was such a pleasure to watch it play out at Kensington Olympia — and it was clear Benedict had a blast as well.